Sunday, March 09, 2008

Scholarship: Objectivity or Passion?

Rejoicing before Him at all times, Rejoicing in His inhabited world, Finding delight with mankind. (the voice of Wisdom from Proverbs 8:30-31 NJPS)
Sometimes I wonder whether, in our drive to be taken seriously in an academic world that is frequently hostile towards Christianity, we have sold out: whether we have made compromises we cannot afford to make. I don't mean backpedaling over specific issues such as the Virgin Birth or the reality of miracles, though these certainly play a part, or again over such particulars as the authorship of the gospels. I think we have made a mistake on a far more basic level: the choice of playing fields. If we are to take our own studies seriously, then we need to re-examine the nature of scholarship itself.

The Wisdom literature of the Scriptures does not consider wisdom to be emotionless or detached. If we are to do justice to God of whom we think, we must reconsider whether detachment is appropriate. In much of contemporary scholarship, objectivity’s detachment is considered to be not only the accepted method and approach, but also the only acceptable tone for any conclusion. This required detachment does not govern whether someone holds a particular view, but limits the allowable attitudes towards the views we hold and towards the material we are discussing. Anything too far from analytical detachment is considered bad practice, evidence of clouded judgment.

Two things are often confused when talking about objectivity. On the one hand, objectivity has meant a clear-headed, sober, unprejudiced view of the facts; on the other hand, objectivity has meant personal detachment at any and all stages of consideration. But what if there are facts that, when viewed with a clear-headed, sober, unprejudiced view, lead to the conclusion that detachment is inadequate and indifference is unacceptable? What if the facts involve us so that detachment becomes a denial of either our humanity or of the meaning of what we are considering? What if there are times when a clear-headed, sober, unprejudiced view of the facts might lead us to celebrate? If no clear-headed view could ever lead to that type of joy, then all our joy in life is without a clear-headed basis. When we apply detachment to the starting point and the method, we avoid prejudice. But when we pre-determine that we will also apply detachment to the conclusion, that is begging the question whether detachment is an acceptable stance in light of the material being considered.

A prior intellectual commitment to detachment precludes the finding that there is something worth celebrating, someone worth praising, that there is such a thing as good news in the sense meant by our faith. This prior commitment to a certain outcome is a form of prejudice – in this case, a prejudice against meaning, passion, and attachment (not to say devotion). The scholarly process as currently conceived establishes in advance only one thing: that we must not claim that our findings matter beyond a certain threshold. The remnants are reduced to intellectual curiosities and denied life-changing force regardless of their content. If we decide in advance that anything even remotely visceral is out of bounds for scholars, then what remains is by definition eviscerated.

There is additional ground I wish to reclaim within the legitimate domain of Christian scholarship. The Christian’s study of God is inseparably bound to meditation, so that a detached analysis of God is not the highest pinnacle of thought about God, but is actually misguided and misleading. Likewise the Christian’s pronouncement of the knowledge of God is inseparably bound to praise, to blessing, and to proclamation of good news. We need to re-envision scholarship to reclaim respectability for this: that good judgment might lead someone to be devoted and passionate without any loss of good judgment.

It becomes the place of the scholar who wants to know God to ponder deeply on the things of God, to see how far clear thought of God leads, and to follow with honesty wherever those thoughts lead. This may lead to breaking scholarly taboos against lament, repentance, praise, or adoration. It should also improve the quality of material generally considered “devotional” as rigorous scholarship enters conversation with popular devotion. I believe it is important that we make this shift to expand the territory allowed to scholars, and that we make it with no apologies. Knowledge of God and proclamation of God are intrinsically blessings; considering them as either academic curiosities or as outside the realm of serious scholarship does them an injustice.


This is a portion of my entry to the recent 2008 Trinity Blogging Summit, slightly reworked to help it better stand on its own.

25 comments:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Bravo!

A theologian is, before and above all else, a person of prayer!

Thank you for this.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thank you for the kind words.

This mentality of "detachment as the highest goal" has been a very questionable move; I'd love to see more of us questioning it and challenging it.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

SeekWisdom said...

Seems to me scripture itself agrees with you:

"Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?" (Luke: 24.32)

A burning heart, it seems to me, is what is needed - both to explain theology and the place from which one "hears" it.

I read your paper on the Trinity. And I agree that what's needed is a mindset that is more Middle Eastern (than wedded to Greek methods of logic). What about Ephrem the Syrian? Does he provide any ideas on the Trinity? (Have you read Torrance? "The Christian Doctrine of God." It's more of a theological "meditation" on the Trinity.)

The Trinity is basic. It is basic to being - it marks everything that is. It lies at the heart of reality. The heart of all creation. The heart of all relating.

I agree wholeheartedly that no one can expound the scriptures or teach theology unless that person's teaching comes from deep prayer. (from "service of the word"...can't find the reference, in Acts, I think)

I'm a therapist. Even analysts are coming around to seeing that "detachment" is not a healthy way to relate. One must be "immersed" in the reality... in order to really "see."

One must allow oneself to be shaped and penetrated by the Divine Life, not to presume one could "shape" theology - "as if" one could be "outside" the Divine. And only then... to struggle to put that into words. (and words/concepts will always fail)

Abstract concepts can never reach the "heart." And they do not come forth from the heart either.

Somehow I think the tradition of prayer which asks someone to "find" the heart, to place their mind in the "heart" is what you're looking for. People who seek the heart of God first. And from that furnace of love, they speak. And the words of such people are simple. In simple, short sentences they speak to your heart, from their heart.

Think of: "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind." And to transform one's understanding of the Trinity, one must first allow one's mind to be transformed. I think only mystics can really "convey" theology.

Sorry. I'm sure this is all so obvious. But I was moved by your paper, which I found kind of by accident last week. I think you're on the right track.

Peace be with you.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

Thanks for the encouragement. Dispassionate scholarship is the oddest thing. Really, people enjoy someone who is passionate about their subject. Zoology? Physics? Astronomy? The more passion the better. But when it comes to religion, passion will get you a one-way ticket to the scholarly dustbin (the off-the-shelf one, not the on-the-shelf one).

I enjoy Ephrem the Syrian's poetry; if he has anything systematic I haven't seen it. Next on my reading list is Cyril of Alexandria, among all the recommendations I've had lately.

You're a therapist? I know a woman who is a licensed spiritual director, and she mentioned something to me about "professional deformation" -- which I gathered to mean the less-than-human way therapists can behave and can treat the people who come to them for help. Part of the same conversation on whether detachment is really a good idea.

Nice to meet you. Let me know if you have a website somewhere.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Enigman said...

Hmm... the thing is, people are so naturally passionate about meaningful things like religion (and even atheism!) that it's probably quite a good thing to encourage them to be objective. It's good for their own pursuit of truth (e.g. it helps them to see the more obvious errors) and it's good for communicating with others (e.g. it's better than heretic-burning!)... I'm sure it's harder that way (but that's not necessarily a bad thing), but it's surely possible (and without the passion one would probably not be studying theology anyway). Academia is annoying, but so are battlefields (the italic is just supposed to be easier to read btw). Incidentally, I always thought that the Trinity (rather than something or things more complex or sophisticated) was designed to solve an academic problem?

SeekWisdom said...

Hello Back!

I have no website. As far as not being "deformed" in my training, I was fortunate to teach young children for about 8 years, during which time we lived near a Benedictine Monastery. Their hospitality and bookstore provided a strong enough foundation so that when I went to grad school I simply grafted my training onto the tree already firmly planted by the water streams. (You can tell your friend that I have never done therapy without my icons of the Trinity and a Madonna and child in the office. Hardly anybody knows they're icons!)

I actually had the good fortune a couple of years ago to take two theology courses from someone whose manner of teaching was deeply reverent. But he was teaching in a seminary, maybe for that reason. However, at that time, I had exactly the same reaction to the understanding of the Trinity that you are having. And I thought that eastern philosophy might actually have been a better fit. Though we are talking something living... within which we move and breathe.

You are right about Ephrem. Only poetry. But a mindset. I will read some Ephrem and see if his mindset provides some help, some mental formation, some indwelling inspiration as food for thought.

I have though much about your paper from Sunday. And honestly, in spite of any efforts to think of where scripture might urge objectivity, I come up blank. On the other hand, there is so much that requires the opposite of anyone who seeks to know God. Here are my thoughts:

Burning Bush: The first words to Moses are, my paraphrase: "Take off your shoes! You're standing on holy ground!" Think about this. We are urged to get "close" to the ground of our being. To humble ourselves and stand barefoot. Moses hears, sees, smells, feels, and touches. No objectivity here!

Jacob's Night with God: Jacob "wrestles" all night. He is forever marked by his experience. He will never walk the same again. He realizes only after the fact that "God was in this place" unbeknownst to him. Close, personal contact. Struggle. Never the same again. Forget objectivity!

Think of how many of the prophets were called. You might be called in the night. Your lips could be touched with a burning coal. Or Paul. He was filled with zeal and thought he was on the right track, had studied with the best theologians of his time! But he was struck down, blinded, heard am accusing voice.... etc. Again, no objectivity is urged. And the academic training had led him in the wrong direction.

There are so many examples. I also think the "foot-washing" pertains. Read and think carefully about that.

I understand none of this gives a "system." But then again, where is a system in the bible? It's meditation through and through.

I find the monastic literature to be most helpful. Maybe because monks do not need to worry about earning a living. That is the problem for theologians to some degree. They are stuck in places where they must conform to the institution. There is a ladder to climb. There may be a denomination to please as well.

So part of the problem that you face is: What is a theologian? Who certifies them? To whom are they beholden? In his own time Jesus was up against a Temple system, a means of judging theology, and ultimately he was condemned for stirring up spiritual passions.

I can see you are trying to ground teaching within a system. And at the same time you want to stir up the fire of Divine passion within your readers/listeners. (maybe I'm wrong... but that's what I'm sensing)

My tiny piece of advice. Follow whatever path God is leading you on. But remember that God stirs the heart - in ways of God's choosing. And God can use the strangest ways! (So, you do your part... but God does the rest and the most important part.)

Thus, I leave my thoughts... for God to continue the work - in you.

SeekWisdom said...

Hello Back!

I have no website. As far as not being "deformed" in my training, I was fortunate to teach young children for about 8 years, during which time we lived near a Benedictine Monastery. Their hospitality and bookstore provided a strong enough foundation so that when I went to grad school I simply grafted my training onto the tree already firmly planted by the water streams. (You can tell your friend that I have never done therapy without my icons of the Trinity and a Madonna and child in the office. Hardly anybody knows they're icons!)

I actually had the good fortune a couple of years ago to take two theology courses from someone whose manner of teaching was deeply reverent. But he was teaching in a seminary, maybe for that reason. However, at that time, I had exactly the same reaction to the understanding of the Trinity that you are having. And I thought that eastern philosophy might actually have been a better fit. Though we are talking something living... within which we move and breathe.

You are right about Ephrem. Only poetry. But a mindset. I will read some Ephrem and see if his mindset provides some help, some mental formation, some indwelling inspiration as food for thought.

I have though much about your paper from Sunday. And honestly, in spite of any efforts to think of where scripture might urge objectivity, I come up blank. On the other hand, there is so much that requires the opposite of anyone who seeks to know God. Here are my thoughts:

Burning Bush: The first words to Moses are, my paraphrase: "Take off your shoes! You're standing on holy ground!" Think about this. We are urged to get "close" to the ground of our being. To humble ourselves and stand barefoot. Moses hears, sees, smells, feels, and touches. No objectivity here!

Jacob's Night with God: Jacob "wrestles" all night. He is forever marked by his experience. He will never walk the same again. He realizes only after the fact that "God was in this place" unbeknownst to him. Close, personal contact. Struggle. Never the same again. Forget objectivity!

Think of how many of the prophets were called. You might be called in the night. Your lips could be touched with a burning coal. Or Paul. He was filled with zeal and thought he was on the right track, had studied with the best theologians of his time! But he was struck down, blinded, heard am accusing voice.... etc. Again, no objectivity is urged. And the academic training had led him in the wrong direction.

There are so many examples. I also think the "foot-washing" pertains. Read and think carefully about that.

I understand none of this gives a "system." But then again, where is a system in the bible? It's meditation through and through.

I find the monastic literature to be most helpful. Maybe because monks do not need to worry about earning a living. That is the problem for theologians to some degree. They are stuck in places where they must conform to the institution. There is a ladder to climb. There may be a denomination to please as well.

So part of the problem that you face is: What is a theologian? Who certifies them? To whom are they beholden? In his own time Jesus was up against a Temple system, a means of judging theology, and ultimately he was condemned for stirring up spiritual passions.

I can see you are trying to ground teaching within a system. And at the same time you want to stir up the fire of Divine passion within your readers/listeners. (maybe I'm wrong... but that's what I'm sensing)

My tiny piece of advice. Follow whatever path God is leading you on. But remember that God stirs the heart - in ways of God's choosing. And God can use the strangest ways! (So, you do your part... but God does the rest and the most important part.)

Thus, I leave my thoughts... for God to continue the work - in you.

SeekWisdom said...

My apology for the double post! It told me it could not "process" but well... God works in strange ways. (I was only trying to preview!)

Blessings upon your endeavors.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi enigman

The ultimate goal, I think, is to have clear-headed, sober judgment and the love of what you're pursuing without dampening each other. It's true that "passion" left to itself goes hot just as much as "knowledge" left to itself goes cold. So my point is not to over-correct the other direction, and not to have a lukewarm hybrid. I think the aim is for that place where clear-headedness meets love of what you're pursuing so that the fire of passion doesn't turn destructive.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

D'oh, forgot to comment on the "trinity" angle there, Enigman:

Yes, it was supposed to solve a problem. But the centuries since have continued to raise the question: how well did it solve it? I'm 100% on board with the fact that nobody has yet come up with a better solution. Still, it's a rough match to Scriptures at some spots, and that keeps spurring study/thought/reconsideration.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi seekwisdom

As far as "grounding thought within a system" -- my issue with theological systems is this: where do they get their agenda? Who sets that agenda?

Christ says that the focus of the Bible is himself, and says that the way we know God (which in theory is the point of theology) is himself. So the only "system" I'd give allegiance is not a system in that sense: I'd give allegiance to Christ.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

SeekWisdom said...

Thanks for the clarification, weekend fisher.

Taking your points in reverse order:

a. Seems to me that Christ was/IS always pointing toward the Father. Showing the Way to the Father. Speaking what the Father gave him to speak. Doing the work of the Father. And of course the Father on a few occasions pointed us to his beloved Son. And generally we can always see the Spirit at work on those occasions. So I'd go for the Trinity as the place to start. And you have already pointed out all the ways that the Trinity is hinted at in the Old Testament as well. And by the way, I love your idea that we could understand the Trinity via - we name them Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So, bible.... yes, Jesus did say he has come to "fulfill" the law and the prophets... not sure I see him as saying the Bible is all about him. Think of his reading: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...." and saying that "today this is fulfilled in your hearing." We have The Creator/Father, then the Spirit inspiring the writers, prophets, compilers, etc. And the Son as the culmination, the Final Word, so to speak. The Word Made Present. So I can't separate scripture from the Trinity... as least as I understand it. (That's why your paper grabbed me... Trinity... and starting from the Old Testament echoes... and the idea that "objectivity" is an elusive, at times even destructive perspective to take.)

So, I guess I like the Trinity as the starting place, because Christ is, if nothing else, totally selfless - pointing toward the Father or promising the Spirit. The Spirit helps us understand, testifies to the Word/Love of the Father. (So, for me, I have to start with "Relationship" as "Divine Life" for what is basic.)

b. Agenda of Systems? Wow, you sure go for the big questions. And you have a knack of getting at the heart of problems! Ok, who decides on/discovers the agenda? Excellent question. I think it's twofold. One has to do with philosophy, the source of all systems, I think... if you go back to Aristotle and consider that he was interested in science as well. So I think people judge the consistency of a system partly by philosophical means (logic, etc.). But then, of course, the system is supposed to agree with Reality. And that's where it bogs down! Whose reality? Whose reading of scripture? Whose denomination or orthodoxy?

I think people try for systems because they want their Christology to agree with their Trinitarian and other "ologies." Sin. Grace. You name it!

I'm not sure we're ever really going to be able to come up with an adequate system... because we are working "in a holy darkness" with puny brains. We are limited by language. That's why I think mystics are better at telling us about The Divine - hinting might be a better word. I'm thinking Meister Eckhart, for example. People who stretch our minds, force us to grapple with paradox. And who, by and large, find poetic expression, I think, for what God has planted in their souls.

Not ruling out discernment at every step, mind you!

Judging from what you've written, you are much better than I at laying things out logically. I'm more programmatic. More poetically oriented perhaps.

I think we are all vouchsafed a glimpse of the Truth. We keep looking through that dark glass, trying to see better... At my age, 63, I am no longer looking to "know" or "understand" what everything means. I honestly think there is a way of "receptivity" which bypasses logic or concepts and becomes wordless perhaps. A different kind of "knowing" - maybe it's simply the indwelling Presence. Holy Mystery. But an awareness on some level... that's it's there... within you. Some kind of sacred space within.

May God bless all your efforts.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi again sw

Sure is nice to talk to someone else interested in all this.

On Christ always pointing beyond himself to the Father and sending this Spirit through him: that may have been the most controversial thing I said in that paper to the TBS (if anybody besides you read the thing), that Christ's *nature* is as a mediator. If someone just smiles and nods whenever Trinity talk is going on, what I said would seem innocuous. But if someone actually follows the details of the thought-contructions, I broke more than a few conventions there. Not that anyone seems to have minded (noticed?).

You were saying "not sure I see him (Christ) as saying the Bible is all about him". How about "You diligently search the Scriptures because you think by *them* you have eternal life. These are they that testify about *me*, yet you refuse to come to *me* and have life." (John 5:39) So Christ claims the bottom-line point of Scripture is himself, their main point is to testify to him as the way of life.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Enigman said...

I think you're right, WF; I distrust systems too, having begun with physics, although passionate physicists usually turn my stomache - they are usually (e.g.
Hawking) just into some favoured model of particles (one I find unrealistic); those passionate about physics in more realistic ways (e.g. Polkinghorne) tend to be less well regarded professionally.

Basically, a system could be very realistic and yet inconsistent (e.g. relativity plus collapse theories), while a consistent system can be quite unrealistic (e.g. many-minds theories), and it seems totally wrong to favour the latter when a bit more work on the former would lead to a better theory, and even just the former plus a realistic attitude to applications (e.g. not believing the model when it allows time-travel) would work fine.

What finally put me off physics was the professional disinterest in the gap between such models of physics and the nature of the tangibly physical things around me, which physics was supposed to be describing; which took me towards philosophy, where I found a similar attitude (e.g. David Lewis's Humean Supervenience is favoured ad nauseum, whilst Theism being a consequence of various presuppositions of Rationality is dismissed summarily).

I don't know much about theology, but I'd guess you're right about how it is. Certainly your blog seems very balanced and therefore informative, which must spring from your passionate interest. (Those who are less concerned must find it easier to slip into some convenient system unconcerned by its misfit with reality.)

Poetry would seem to allow the clearest communication of metaphysical truths, and I'm wondering if a Sci-Fi novel wouldn't be a better (more Socratic) way of doing philosophy, than academia; but I suspect that academia is more tolerant than the market-place. PS I've only just (as a result of your discussion above) noticed how interesting is the TBS, so I'll go and read some of that now.

Annette said...

Anne, sorry about the late entry into the Christian Carnival post. It didn't get to me before 1000 a.m. this wednesday morning, and with a busy day I just couldn't get to it. You are in now. :)

SeekWisdom said...

WF:

I completely agree about Christ as the Mediator. And I'll buy "that" (and your quote) as the way to explain Christ as what the scriptures testify to. And using that concept, one would never mistakenly view Christ as "separate" - from Trinity or us. In that sense I wonder if we can think of Christ being a "way" kind of like the internet. A channel. Of course, being the "Last Word," Christ is The Way - as if the whole bible (and we members of his body) were "linked" through him - to God/Trinity. (probably stretching a metaphor.... )

Yes, it's a pleasure to discuss with someone who cares about these things!

By the way, you remark on breaking conventions, but I honestly was puzzled when you ended your paper with expectations that people might see heresies. Because, to me, everything you said made perfect sense! It was like.... Yes! Amen!

I salute you!

I look forward to the rest of your posts on this. (and if ever any thoughts of mine might help the cause, consider them "open source,"
a contribution to the cause) I'm grateful for finding your site.

Blessings upon your work!

David Porter said...

At the end of the day, one whose philosophies argue for man and against the words of Christ finds themselves alone and afraid with no certainty in their future.

Ultimately their cry for detachment is jealousy, for in Christ we have joy, peace and love. No thinking person, having experienced these things of Christ, could possibly be detached from them any more then we could ask them to be detached from their legs.

David Porter said...

At the end of the day, one whose philosophies argue for man and against the words of Christ finds themselves alone and afraid with no certainty in their future.

Ultimately their cry for detachment is jealousy, for in Christ we have joy, peace and love. No thinking person, having experienced these things of Christ, could possibly be detached from them any more then we could ask them to be detached from their legs.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thanks, all.

I should probably mention what I considered to be the more controversial points of that Trinity piece I sent in, but I'll probably save that for a separate post rather than buried in the comments here. It'll be after Holy Week. I try not to get into things that might turn polemical during Lent.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

SeekWisdom said...

Two things:

#1. Info on Ephrem. From Sebastian Brock: "The Luminous Eye" (subtitle, "The Spiritual World Vision of St. Ephrem the Syrian" available at Amazon)

p. 15: "St. Ephrem's importance, then, lies in the fact that he is the one major writer who is a representative of Semitic-Asian Christianity in its as yet unhellenized-uneuropeanized form. Yet at the same time, even though St. Ephrem is at a very considerable remove from, his contemporaries, St. Athanasius, St. Basil, and the two Saints Gregory in language, in modes of expression, and in thought patterns, he is nonetheless essentially at one with them in his understanding of the mystery of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

...

"For those whose Christian tradition is of European background, Ephrem provides a refreshing counterbalance to an excessively cerebral tradition of conducting theological enquiry..."

p. 21 "Although St. Ephrem has a very coherent and well thought out theological vision, he does not ever express this vision in any systmatic form. Indeed, as we shall see, his approach dislikes any kind of systematization, and is essentially dynamic and fluid in character."

#2. Based on Ephrem's views of "divinization" - in particular his understanding of the temptation to eat the "forbidden fruit," I have some thoughts regarding your question in this post:

The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Ephrem believes that had Adam and Eve eaten only of the Tree of Life, they would have ultimately been given of the "Wisdom" Tree. He views the "forbidden tree" as potentially good or evil... thus neutral in and of itself.

Over and over, God calls Isreal/all of us to "Choose Life." It seems to me that trying to "grasp" theological knowledge - to "take" it and "presume" to understand it using abstractions - is what leads one astray into lifeless academic pursuits. Whereas, to "choose life" one follows, moment to moment, what is given by God. One does not seek the knowledge as such, but waits to be fed by the Lord.

This next part is not via Ephrem, but it seems to me that when Jesus was tempted in the desert, to have the stones turn into bread, it was like a temptation to "magic" - a distorted kind of "knowledge" and Jesus responds that one can be fed by every word from the mouth of God. So, waiting to be "fed" by the Lord, rather than seizing knowledge before its time. Waiting for the grain to ripen so to speak and be crushed and made into spiritual bread.

So, if we choose Life, God's word, the gift of the Presence, and wait upon the Lord, I think that in time Wisdom itself may be given to us - our inner eye is opened.

Another way to look at this is to think of wisdom as like water. To grasp it is to get nothing. But if instead one chooses the "Christ" Life, as we are told in St. John's gospel, springs of living water flow from our heart: Wisdom is given within as an inner upwelling of God's grace.

So, I think that to study theology without first giving oneself to the spiritual life is like eating of the forbidden fruit (I do not mean to suggest that to study theology sinful, but not as fruitful). Whereas, to wait upon the Lord (to choose Life) is ... by God's grace ... to be gifted - at times - with inner (heart) Wisdom. And this latter wisdom, like the poetry and hymns of Eprem, can be both inspired and inspiring.

These are my thoughts, sparked by Ephrem's views of the Two Trees. But this fits with Psalm 1 and I think with the covenant message to "Choose Life." And, without saying more, it fits with my own experience.

Weekend Fisher said...

Oh now that's interesting about the view of the two trees. I'm searching my memory for what Ephrem said about the Two Trees and nothing is registering. But I have a post for this blog that's drafting now where -- long story short -- I'm reading what Proverbs says about the Tree of Life back into Genesis. Which puts the Tree of Life as *wisdom* (i.e. Word of God, Christ) rather than as *knowledge*.

Can you give me the Reader's Digest version of what Ephrem said?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

SeekWisdom said...

WF:

p.23 "To Ephrem, theological definitions are not only potentially dangerous, but they can also be blasphemous." So he proceeds via symbolism and paradox. (I think he uses the two trees in this manner.)

a. they were told not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge (of good and evil)

b. had they kept the command, Ephrem believes (p. 31) "God would have rewarded them , not only with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, but also with the fruit of the Tree of Life, and they would have become immortal and been divinized." (his view of course)

c. His description of the Tree of Life: "For God's word is the Tree of Life, which proffers to you on all sides blessed fruits; it is like the Rock which was struck in the Wilderness, which became a spiritual drink for everyone on all sides."

d. He goes on to say... of scripture (God's word): "Anyone who encounters Scripture should not suppose that a single one of its riches that he has found is the only one to exist; rather, he should realize that he himself is only capable of discovering that one out of the many riches which exist in it." He goes on to compare Scripture to a fountain, from, which one can drink again and again... finding new meanings (and he seems to indicate that this would be even in the same words of scripture).

e. He seems to have viewed the Tree of Life as akin to Paradise.

(I was probably wrong to say that they should have eaten of the Tree of Life... I guess I assumed they could freely eat that tree, since they were only forbidden the one tree... I think there is a bit of confusion about these two trees, don't you think? But clearly the one is forbidden... and the other seems to have so much meaning. He has much more to say about the Tree of Life than the Tree of Knowledge.)

f. If you consider other wisdom traditions, other mystical traditions, there does seem to be a denigration of academic knowledge vis a vis true Wisdom, which is gained through experience by following a spiritual path.

(an aside) There is a Sufi story about fruit. One person followed the "path" and was so bent on the path, they missed the fruit. Another person found the fruit but it was over-ripe and they thought, "If this is fruit, I'm not interested." The third person followed the path, found the fruit, and even though it was rotting said, "If I take the seed from the fruit and plant it, I will get fruit."

g. He also viewed the Eucharist as the Fruit of the Tree of Life. (so that fits with Christ/Wisdom)

h. This is way too much, but based on the index of the book and any references to the trees.

I probably haven't given the best synopsis here. But it seems that Ephrem believed there are hidden in scripture so many meanings, that we could never plumb them all. And that there can be paradoxical meanings even in the same lines or symbols.

Ok. I think you and I are both in agreement that there is a huge difference between Wisdom and knowledge. And your reading of the Tree of Life as Wisdom does not really seem to differ from what I've written here actually. Indeed, it makes sense. Especially if the Tree of Life is the Word.

So, you could maybe say that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the desire to grasp God as if you could contain the Divine within your own mind vs God giving himself to you in the form of Wisdom/the Word/Christ.

Here's something on Ephrem and theology:

p. 43 This is Brock explaining Ephrem: "Theology, like any other intellectual pursuit, can take on three different forms, depending on the attitude of mind present in the person setting out on the path of enquiry.

(1) "to dominate and subjugate the object of its enquiry" (British spelling of "enquiry") "Ephrem saw this as the basic attitude of many 'heretical thinkers of his own time."

(2) a "dispassionate and scientific" approach, which "Ephrem implies that he himself tried - but found wanting:"

"Turn me back to Your teaching: I wanted to stand back,
but I saw that I became the poorer.
For the soul does not get any benefit
except through converse with You."

(Faith 32:1)

(3) "The third approach, which is Ephrem's, is that of engagement, an engagement above all of love and wonder. Whereas the second approach involves only a one-way movement, from the mind to the object of enquiry, this third approach is a two-way affair, involving a continual interaction. Only by means of such an interaction of love can human knowledge of divine truth grow. Ephrem continues in the same hymn:

"Whenever I have meditated upon You
I have acquired a veritable treasure from You;
Whatever aspect of you I have contemplated,
a stream has flowed from You.
There is no way in which I can contain it.

Your fountain, Lord, is hidden
from the person who does not thirst for You;
Your treasury seems empty
to the person who rejects You.
Love is the treasurer
of Your heavenly treasure store."


Ok. My view of this: If one is deeply yearning for God alone, the Trinity comes to indwell your soul and then all of this is the fruit of that indwelling. (and then you have the "back and forth... which is a participation in the Trinity) And Wisdom is what you could put into words ... or try to.

This is all so complex, so deep, so wide, so incomprehensible, and St Paul would say it far better than I!!!

I hope I have helped somewhat. Good luck. And many blessings!

Weekend Fisher said...

Thank you. I really appreciate all the time you put into that.

I think Ephrem's in the mainstream of the ancient Christian traditions in seeing Christ as the tree of life, seeing the Eucharist as the tie-in to that. Have you ever seen the Eastern Orthodox icon of the Tree of Life?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

SeekWisdom said...

I have not seen the Tree of Life orthodox icon - that I know of. But I will look for that. I googled it and got a Theotokos Tree of Life, which is another very interesting way of thinking of that.

Glad I could help. I will be happy to act as your volunteer researcher at times.

Ephrem, as you say, is in the "mainstream" - while having a more Semitic mind set. You, I think, just from what I have read, are better at putting many things together than I. As one grows older, the "inner eye" is maybe stronger, but the ability to integrate a lot of info is not as good - if it's out of your "field."

Consider me a lieutenant in the cause.

Peace be with you. I have a lot of faith in your inklings and direction.

Weekend Fisher said...

Your generosity is incredible. I'm concerned whether your trust in me is really entirely justified. I think one of my upcoming posts really should sketch out the ways in which I'm breaking with the conventions on some things ...

Thank you for the kindness and trust.

Anne / WF