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Christian Faith and Knowledge

Christian Faith and Knowledge

Christian Faith and Knowledge

by Michael Pomazansky,
Protopresbyter of Orthodox Christian Church

Contents:

1. Dogmatic and Faith
2. Theology and Science | Theology and Philosophy
3. Our Knowledge of God | The Dogma of Faith
4. Belief or Faith as an Attribute of the Soul
5. The Power of Faith
6. The Source of Faith

1. Dogmatic and Faith

Dogmatic Theology is for the believing Christian:

In itself it does not inspire faith, but presupposes that faith already exists in the heart. “I believed, wherefore I spoke,” says a righteous man of the Old Testament (Ps. 116:10).

And the Lord Jesus Christ revealed the mysteries of the Kingdom of God to His disciples after they had believed in Him:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68‑69).

Faith, and more precisely faith in the Son of God Who has come into the world, is the cornerstone of Sacred Scripture; it is the cornerstone of one's personal salvation; and it is the cornerstone of theology:

“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31),

writes the Apostle John at the end of his Gospel, and he repeats the same thought many times in his epistles; and these words of his express the chief idea of all of the writings of the holy Apostles: I believe.

All Christian theologizing must begin with this confession:

Under this condi­tion theologizing is not an abstract mental exercise, not an intellectual dialectics, but a dwelling of one's thought in Divine truths, a directing of the mind and heart towards God, and recognition of God’s love.

For an unbeliever theologizing is without effect, because Christ Himself, for unbelievers, is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:7‑8; see Matt. 21:44).

2. Theology and Science
Theology and Philosophy

The Difference between Theology and the natural sciences, which are founded upon observation or experiment, is made clear by the fact that dogmatic theology is founded upon living and holy faith:

Here the starting point is faith, and there, experience.

However, the manners and methods of study are one and the same in both spheres: the study of facts, and deductions drawn from them.

Only, with natural science the deductions are derived from facts collected through the observation of nature, the study of the life of peoples, and human creativity; while in theology the deductions come from the study of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition:

The natural sciences are empirical and technical, while our study is theological.

This clarifies the difference also between theology and philosophy:

Philosophy is erected upon purely rational founda­tions and upon the deductions of the experimental sciences, to the extent that the latter are capable of being used for the higher questions of life; while theology is founded upon Divine Revela­tion:

They must not be confused; theology is not philosophy even when it plunges our thinking into profound or elevated subjects of Christian faith which are difficult to understand.

Theology does not deny either the experimental sciences or philosophy:

St. Gregory the Theologian considered it the merit of St. Basil the Great that he mastered dialectic to perfection, with the help of which he overthrew the philosophical constructs of the enemies of Christianity.

In general, St. Gregory did not sympathize with those who expressed a lack of respect for outward learning.

However, in his renowned homilies on the Holy Trinity, after setting forth the profoundly contemplative teaching of Triunity, he thus remarks of himself:

Thus, as briefly as possible I have set forth for you our love of wisdom, which is dogmatic and not dialectical, in the manner of the fishermen and not of Aristotle, spiritually and not cleverly woven according to the rules of the Church and not of the marketplace
(Homily 22).

The course of dogmatic theology is divided into two basic parts:
into the teaching

1) about God in Himself  and

2) about God in His manifestation of Himself as Creator, Providence, Saviour of the world, and Perfector of the destiny of the world.

3. Our Knowledge of God
The Dogma of Faith

The First Word of Christian Symbol of Faith is “I believe.”

All of Christian confession is based upon faith.
God is the first object of Christian belief.

Thus, Christian acknowledgment of the existence of God is founded not upon rational grounds, not on proofs taken from reason or received from the experience of our outward senses, but upon an inward, higher conviction which has a moral foundation.

In the Christian understanding, to believe in God signifies not only to acknowledge God with the mind, but also to strive towards Him with the heart.

We believe that which is inaccessible to outward experience, to scientific investigation, to being received by our outward organs of sense.

St. Gregory the Theologian distinguishes between

1) religious belief — “I believe in someone, in something” —
2) and a simple personal belief — “I believe someone, I believe something.”

He writes:

“It is not one and the same thing ‘to believe in something' and ‘to believe something.' We believe in the Divinity, but we simply believe any ordinary thing” (“On the Holy Spirit,” Part III,).

4. Belief or Faith as an Attribute of the Soul

Christian Faith is a Mystical revelation in the human soul:

It is broader, more powerful, closer to reality than thought. It is more complex than separate feelings. It contains within itself the feelings of love, fear, veneration, reverence, and humility.

Likewise, it cannot be called a manifestation of the will, for although it moves mountains, the Christian renounces his own will when he believes, and entirely gives himself over to the will of God: “May Thy will be done in me, a sinner.

The path to faith lies in the heart; it is inseparable from pure, sacrificial love, “working through love” (Gal. 5:6).

Of course, Christianity is bound up also with knowledge of the mind, it gives a world view:

But if it remained only a world view, its power to move would vanish. Without faith it would not be the living bond between heaven and earth.

Christian belief is something much greater than the “persuasive hypothesis” which is the kind of belief usually encountered in life.

5. The Power of Faith

The Church of Christ is founded upon faith as upon a rock which does not shake beneath it:

By faith the saints conquered kingdoms, performed righteous deeds, closed the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the sharp sword, were strengthened in infirmity (Heb. 11:33‑38).

Being inspired by faith, Christians went to torture and death with joy.

Faith is a rock, but a rock that is impalpable, free of heaviness and weight, that draws one upward and not downward.

“He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water, said the Lord (John 7:38);

and the preaching of the Apostles, a preaching in the power of the word, in the power of the Spirit, in the power of signs and wonders, was a living testimony of the truth of the words of the Lord.

Such is the mystery of living Christian faith.

6. The Source of Faith

 “If ye have faith, and doubt not... if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea — it shall be done” (Matt. 21:21).

The history of the Church of Christ is filled with the miracles of the saints of all ages. However, miracles are not performed by faith in general, but by Christian faith.

Faith is a reality not by the power of imagination and not by self‑hypnosis, but by the fact that it binds one with the source of all life and power ‑ with God.

In the expression of the Hieromartyr Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons,

faith is a vessel by which water is scooped up; but one must be next to this water and must put the vessel into it: this water is the grace of God.

Faith is the key to the treasure-house of God,”
writes St. John of Kronstadt (My Life in Christ, Vol. I,).

Faith is strengthened and its truth is confirmed by the benefits of its spiritual fruits which are known by experience. Therefore the Apostle instructs us, saying:

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. 13:5).

Yet, it is difficult to give a definition of what faith is:

When the Apostle says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1), without touching here on the nature of faith,

he indicates only what its gaze is directed towards:
towards that which is awaited, towards the invisible;

and thus he indicates precisely that faith is the penetration of the soul into the future (“the substance of things hoped for”) or into the invisible (“the evidence of things not seen”).

This testifies to the mystical character of Christian faith.