Thursday, September 28, 2006

St. Isaiah the Solitary 10

St. Isaiah the Solitary, On Guarding the Intellect, Twenty-Seven Texts

10. If your intellect is freed from all its enemies and attains the sabbath rest, it lives in another age, a new age in which it contemplates things new and undecaying. For “wherever the dead body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”

This third of three statements about the freedom of the intellect is transformative. First, a sing that sin has died in us. Second, that the breach with God has been healed. But those are both negative things. Now we hear of the positive.

The freed intellect lives “in another age”: in eternity. Our intellect is able to exercise its proper function, of the contemplation of eternal things. We are now light-years from what has come before: from the use of the intellect for self-assertion or self-defense. Free from all fear and risk, and no longer even needing to pursue the truth, the intellect is now in possession of the living Truth, God himself. And yet, this talk of possession now seems out-of-place; or rather, backwards: the intellect now knows itself to be possessed by the Truth.

The spiritual life is so often likened to a journey these days, but here St. Isaiah recalls to us the image of a sabbath rest, of the conclusion of our journey. The journey finds its meaning in the conclusion and not in the process of getting there; the process was valuable because of the conclusion. And here we do not find that the conclusion is empty, nor is it unspoken as the Buddhist nibbana. No, the conclusion is with activity, and indeed, the true and proper activity for which the intellect was created.

In the possession of the Truth is the consummation as well of Socratic (and thus, all) philosophy. The pursuit and love of wisdom was always for the sake of wisdom, the dialectic was hunting after the Truth. Plato’s mistake, and that of all the rest of philosophy through the ages, is to settle for half the truth instead of continuing to search. But the contrary mistake is also dangerous: to mistake the journey for the destination, and to be content merely with a pilgrimage that, ultimately, leads nowhere.

St. Isaiah here depicts then, the destination: a sabbath rest, but a rest of contemplation—a state in which the intellect is doing what it ought to have been doing all along.

Index of Comments on the Philokalia

No comments: