Noetic Knowledge: More on Apophaticism and St. Gregory
In my last post, I metioned the importance of St. Gregory of Palamas' teachings on the nature of knowledge. St. Gregory has much to say to us postmoderns in our search for authentic experience in the Christian life and for true knowledge. In Orthodox thought the dianoia is the discursive reasoning, the knowledge of the created realm whereas the nous is the innermost part of man's heart, that which acquires spiritual knowledge. While Orthodox thought sees a distinction between knowledge of the created realm and spiritual knowledge, western scholastic philosophy blends them together.
"This can be shown by an examination of the Latin Vulgate...Examining all NT references to 'nous' and 'dianoia'and examining the Vulgate to determine how these Greek words were translated, one finds that 'nous' is variously rendered 'mens'/'mente', 'sensus'/'sensum', and 'intellectum'; 'dianoia' is variously rendered 'mente'/'mentis', 'sensu'/'sensum', and 'intellectum'. IOW, there is no distinction between 'nous' and 'dianoia' in the Latin!" [quoted from old notes]
Orthodox Christian teaching, OTOH, has always recognised that there is an infinite difference between the created order -- including man's intellect -- and the Creator. It has always understood that the *only* bridge between this difference is that greatest of all miracles, the Incarnation. It acknowledges that God's *existence* can be recognized from His creation, but has always recognised that He cannot be *known* from His creation. Orthodox Christianity has always taught that God can only be fully known via Divine Revelation: something that only occurs to the pure in heart who have their nous enlightened by God. St. Gregory did not think highly of those who put reason over prayer, philosophy over theology, information over wisdom:
"What then should be the work and the goal of those who seek the wisdom of God in creatures? Is it not the acquisition of the truth, and the glorification of the Creator? ... Is there then anything of use to us in this philosophy? Certainly. ... but somewhat as in a mixture of honey and hemlock. So it is most needful that those who wish to separate out the honey from the mixture should beware that they do not take the deadly residue by mistake. And if you were to examine the problem, you would see that all or most of the harmful heresies derive their origin from this source.
If you put to good use that part of the profane wisdom which has been well excised, no harm can result, for it will naturally have become an instrument for good. But even so, it cannot in the strict sense be called a gift of God and a spiritual thing, for it pertains to the order of nature and is not sent from on high.... our mind possesses both an intellectual power which permits it to see intelligible things, and also a capacity for that union which surpasses the nature of the intellect ... The intellectual faculties become superfluous ...at such a time man truly sees neither by the intellect nor by the body, but by the Spirit."
Unfortunately, the Western mindset is so rationalistic that it is very difficult to become free of the misconception that spiritual knowledge of God can be primarily acquired through rational analysis, etc. That is why RCism appeals to so many people: it is the most rationalistic form of Christianity. It fits the a priori assumptions of those who regard man's intellect as having supreme importance, who are convinced that the world is a logically ordered creation which can be studied to uncover knowledge of the mind of its Creator.
Hieromonk Damascene's introduction to "Christ the Eternal Tao" includes this statement, which, IMO, puts it very well: "Having removed from Christianity the Cross of inward purification [of the nous], the churches [in Western society] have replaced a direct, intuitive apprehension of Reality and a true experience of God with intellectualism on the one hand and emotionalism on the other."