September 2011 - Vol. 52.

Readings from the Early Church Fathers on the Light of God's Truth

What can blind us to the light of truth?
by Theodoret of Cyrus, Syria (393-457 AD)
The light allows the eye to distinguish, for example, gold from silver, copper from iron and tin. Moreover, it allows us to note the difference between colors and shapes, between the plants and between the animals. But only for those who have sound eyesight. The blind gain no advantage from the rays of the sun: they do not even see the brightness of the light!

There are people who do not want to open their eyes to the light of truth but are quite happy to live in darkness. They are like the blind. They are like the birds that fly by night and take their name from it, night-jars, or like bats.

It would be stupid to be angry with these animals. Nature has assigned them that destiny. But human beings who purposely choose the mirky gloom, what reason can they give to justify themselves? 

What prevents them removing the mist from their eyes is arrogance. They fancy they know the truth better than others because they have studied a lot. But they are like fish in the sea: they live in salt water, but, nevertheless, once they have been caught they still need to be salted.

- The Cure of Pagan Diseases, 2, I ff. (SCS7, P.I36)

More true than the truth? 

by Irenaeus of Lyons (115-202 AD)

Some people abandon the teachings of the church and fail to understand how a simple and devout person can have more worth than a philosopher who blasphemes without restraint.

Heretics are like that. 

Heretics are always wanting to find something more true than the truth. They are always choosing new and unreliable ways. But like the blind led by the blind, they will fall into the abyss of ignorance by their own fault. 

The church is like paradise on earth. “You may eat freely of the fruit of every tree in the garden,” says the Spirit of God. In our case he means: Feed on the whole of Scripture, but do not do it with intellectual pride, and do not swallow the opinions of the heretics. They pretend to possess the knowledge of good and evil, but they are impiously elevating their own intelligence above their Creator. 

Beware! By devouring the ideas of the heretics we banish ourselves from the paradise of life. 

- Against Heresies, 5, 20 (Harvey II, P.379)
Knowledge is no good without charity

by Maximus the Confessor, Constantinople (580-662 AD)

If you have received from God the gift of knowledge, however limited, beware of neglecting charity and temperance. They are virtues which radically purify the soul from passions and so open the way of knowledge continually.

The way of spiritual knowledge passes through inner freedom and humility. Without them we shall never see the Lord.

“Knowledge puffs up whereas charity builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Therefore unite knowledge with charity and by being cleansed from pride you will become a true spiritual builder. You will build up yourself and all those who are your neighbors.

Charity takes its power to build up from the fact that it is never envious nor unkind. It is natural for knowledge to bring with it, at the beginning anyway, some measure of presumption and envy. But charity overcomes these defects:  presumption because "it is not puffed up" and envy because "it is patient and kind" (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Anyone who has knowledge, therefore, ought also to have charity, because charity can save his spirit from injury.

If someone is judged worthy to receive the gift of knowledge but allows his heart to be full of bitterness or rancor or aversion to another, it is as if he had been struck in the eye by a thornbush. That is why knowledge is no good without charity.

- Centuries on Charity, 4, 5'7 ff. (SC9, PP.I64ff.)

How can we satisfy our need to know?
by Diadochus of  Photica (5th century AD)

True knowledge is the light whereby we can infallibly distinguish good from  evil.

That limitless light illumines the way of righteousness which leads the mind towards the Sun himself. In that light the mind strives with all its energy after divine charity.

Our longing for true knowledge is satisfied by spiritual discourse, provided it comes from God through the exercise of charity.

The intellect ceases to be tormented as it concentrates upon the Word of God.

Whereas previously it was troubled and made wretched by its worries, now the exercise of love expands the compass of its reflections.

- Spiritual Works, 6, 7 (SCSb, PP.S7ff.)

[Translation by Paul Drake. For more readings see Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, by Thomas Spidlik, Cistercian Publications, 1994.]
(c) copyright 2011  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom