These questions may seem very outdated today, as the debate appears to have been settled by the neurological argument, according to which the brain is the origin of our consciousness. The question has now shifted to how consciousness arises, which is a similar problem to how ideas are produced.
However, the hypothesis that the brain is not the origin of all our ideas, but merely a “transducer”, can still be made: can one discriminate between a brain that only analyses and translates a raw input into a given output and a brain that is the actual source of the same output? Read More...
As I have spent some time describing the importance of desire and contemplation, I thought I would start with a short how-to approach to meditation and prayer that will help us engage in the “art of contemplation”, which is at the root of an infinite progression towards our ideal. Read More...
3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exod 20:7), swearing an oath falsely because of some worldly thing, or out of human fear, or shame, or for personal gain. For a false oath is denial of God.
4. One day of the week you shall ‘keep holy’ (Exod. 20:8). Read More...
2. “You shall not make an image of anything in the heavens above, or in the earth below, or in the sea” to which St Gregory Palamas adds: in such a way that you worship these things and glorify them as gods. In the KJV, Exodus 20:4-5 gives “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them”. I mentioned the iconoclast movement which took this commandment without its qualifier. Read More...
How did the incarnation of Christ transform the Ten Commandments of the Mosaic Law? How does Christianity incorporate the basic moral framework of the Torah? These questions are central to the notions of reconciliation and reintegration that I have presented before (follow the "reintegration" and "reconciliation" tags in the sidebar), because they lay out the most fundamental virtues that one must cultivate in order to live in accordance with the Christian faith. One of the most contemplative and introspective traditions of Christianity, the Orthodox hesychast movement, has given us a profoundly pastoral summary of Christian moral teaching, that weaves together “worldly” codes of conduct and finer theological positions.
Part 3: Contemplation and Desire
As we have seen previously, Gregory of Nyssa taught that man must leave his current predicament and make his way towards God. However, this requires him to abandon complacency and self indulgence, to leave behind his old ways and to remain constantly vigilant -
“But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.” (Mt 24:43)
But how can one summon enough strength to practice the virtues and reach the purity that are required for walking the narrow path of reconciliation?
“There is a wide interval between those who have been purified, and those who still need purification. For those in whose life time here the purification by the laver has preceded, there is a restoration to a kindred state. Now, to the pure, freedom from passion is that kindred state, and that in this freedom from passion blessedness consists, admits of no dispute.” (In The Great Cathechism)
“if we must describe the masonry, then let incorruptibility and impassability mould the house which justice and freedom will adorn. Let humility and patience shine in another part of the house along with piety befitting God. Let love, the noble craftsman, fashion all these virtues in a marvellous way.” (Commentary on Ecclesiastes, J.325.)
In other words, the object of man’s desire, and love, is God’s Wisdom rather than his own:
“And so it is equally reasonable that he who is enamoured of wisdom should hold the Object of his passionate desire, Who is the True Wisdom; and that the soul which cleaves to the undying Bridegroom should have the fruition of her love for the true Wisdom, which is God.”
And what better way would there be, if one desires to become a temple for God’s Wisdom, than to follow Christ’s example of ‘detachment’ from sin and ‘immutability’ in virtue?
The bishop of Nyssa considered that our desire to resemble Christ is born from the contemplation and the perception (theoria) of infinite Good. And God being infinite, that desire itself must be infinite:
“Because Christ received the first fruits of our common nature through his soul and body, he made it holy and kept it in himself as unmixed and uncontaminated with any evil; by offering [the first fruits of our common nature] through incorruptibility to the Father of incorruptibility, he might draw all those of the same kin and race (Eph 1.5) and adopt the disinherited and God's enemies to share his divinity. Just as purity and detachment united the dough's first fruit with the true Father and God, we, the mass of dough, should cling to the Father of incorruptibility by imitating the mediator's detachment and immutability as far as possible.” (On Perfection, J.206)
“Since, then, those who know that is good by nature, desire participation in it [God as absolute virtue], and since this good has no limit, the participant’s desire itself necessarily has no stopping place but stretches out with the limitless. […]
“Hope always draws the soul from the beauty which is seen to what is beyond, always kindles the desire for the hidden through what is constantly perceived. Therefore, the ardent lover of beauty, although receiving what is always visible as an image of what he desires, yet longs to be filled with the very stamp of the archetype. […]
“This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see him. But one must always, by looking at what he can see, rekindle his desire to see more. Thus, no limit would interrupt growth in the ascent to God, since no limit to the Good can be found nor is the increasing of desire for the Good brought to an end because it is satisfied.” (Life of Moses, pp. 31, 114, 116; translation by Malherbe and Ferguson).
“We need an unceasing desire for higher things, which is not content to acquiesce in past achievements; we ought to count it a loss if we fail to progress further.” (On the Beatitudes, p.130)
In addition to sight, St Gregory uses another worldly metaphor to convey his thought of ‘theoria’, the perception of God: the scent of the divine – an imagery that was to become popular amongst kabbalists of the middle ages with regards to the immolation of the sacrificial lamb (holocaust). Whereas the fumes of the holocaust attract the divine to earth, it is the opposite movement that St Gregory has in mind, although both lead to the same goal:
“I will take up again what I said at the start of this homily: let no one who is passionate, fleshly and still smelling of the foul odour of the old man [2 Cor 2:16] drag down the significance of the divine thoughts and words to beastly, irrational thoughts. Rather, let each person go out of himself and out of the material world. Let him ascend into paradise through detachment, having become like God through purity. Then let him enter into the inner sanctuary of the mysteries revealed in this book [the Song of Songs]. […] The souls, therefore, draw to themselves a desire for their immortal bridegroom and follow the Lord God, as it is written [Hos 11.10]. The cause of their love is the scent of the perfume to which they eternally run; they stretch out to what is in front, forgetting what is behind. “We shall run after you toward the scent of your perfumes.” (Commentary of the Song of Songs, J.25, J.39).
Again, one sees that infinite desire can lead to eternally migrating away from the “foul odour of the old man” and towards the ‘scent of the perfumes’ of the ‘bridegroom’.